Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Happened to the JOY ?

I've always loved teaching eighth grade. The curriculum - to me - is very interesting and I enjoy helping students learn about and explore all the facets of algebra at this level. One of the things I've always found challenging, though, is the attitude many eighth graders have about school. By the time we get our eighth graders, many of them have a less than positive view of school and especially of math. Many times, this translates into attitudes of "I'm too cool to do ...." or, "I don't do....", or, in students with bigger issues, this translates into the beginnings of behavioral issues.

Last year, I was moved from eighth to sixth grade. I was disappointed because I truly do love the curriculum at eighth grade. However, I spent the summer reacquainting myself with a sixth grade scope and sequence I hadn't dealt with in ten years, with the common core standards for sixth grade, and with a variety of the new type of approaches and assessments being used at this level.

I've been working with my sixth graders for a month now and I've come to realize that there was one thing about sixth graders that I forgot in my almost ten years spent with eighth graders. They're wonderful!!!! I am having sooooooo much fun with them because they are just so joyous about everything we do! I don't care how small the activity is that I've planned, I always get numerous responses of "that was fun" or "thank you for teaching me that" or "I've always wanted to know that". They come into the class excited for the day, asking what we're going to be doing, and - for the most part - diving right into the activity of the day with great excitement. It's making my teaching days very fun and very rewarding in a way I hadn't experienced with my eighth graders.

This leads me to my question in the title....What Happened to the Joy ???? I've been asking myself this a lot for the last few weeks. Where does this exuberance, this joie de vivre, this love of learning new things go? The last group of sixth graders I taught had it, this group has it, other sixth grade teachers tell me their students have it. Eighth grade teachers tell me their students, as a group, do not.

Why? Is it all developmental? Is it something we "do" to them at school as they get older? Is there anything we can do to change it?

This is an incomplete blog post because I simply don't know the answers. But I would like to. And I think this is an important question worth examining....

What are your thoughts?


  1. This is an important question to ponder. I went to teaching middle school after first teaching high school and was struck by students' curiosity and willingness to dive right in and engage in activities. Partly, I do think it is developmental and part of the whole 8th grade "too cool for school" mindset. As students move from child to teenager, they are just less open about their excitement, less interested in pleasing the teacher and being polite. But I also think it's institutional: more focus on grades, less pursuit of things that intrinsically motivate kids or make them curious. Somehow, kids' interests get narrower. They decide that they're just not good at or don't like math or science or music. Part of that is a normal winnowing down of possibilities, which culminates in choosing a career to pursue. But it is also sad to see kids closing doors that we wish remained open to them. And it certainly makes it harder to teach.

  2. In August I wrote about standards based grading and a colleague took me to task asking, "Is the pure joy and delight of learning without judgment forever gone?" The comment deserved it's own post and it directly relates to your question.

  3. Oh, my goodness! I enjoyed your post so much! I taught eighth grade math for 20 years and after working as a reading specialist for six years have returned to middle school math - in sixth grade!

    My observations are exactly the same as yours, and I will be interested in seeing what others post on the subject. Some of my eighth graders had not been successful for so long that by the time they got to me, they had forgotten what it was like. It took a long time to gain their trust and to convince them that they actually could do the math.

    This is why I try to find activities that are interactive and fun and why I try to incorporate the aesthetics - art, music, drama, and dance - in my teaching as much as possible.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in your blog.


  4. Great post! I ask myself the very same questions as an 8th grade Algebra teacher. I agree with the previous comments about students being less interested in pleasing their teachers as they get older and being shy about showing their excitement. There's a lot of energy required to engage the older students. I, like Pat, also try to find interactive and fun activities. This has led me to start making my own video shorts, complete with fast paced beats and a cartoony feel, to introduce lessons. It's a lot of work, but it really helps engage them. There seems to be "joy" in the room while they watch the videos.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  5. Hi,

    The joy disappears because we stop making math fun :/

    I came across your blog via David Wees, and as a fellow mathematics educator I thought you might be able to help in spreading the word about an educational TV show about math that we're putting together. "The Number Hunter" is going to do for math education what Bill Nye The Science Guy did for science education. I’d really appreciate your help in getting the word out about the project.

    I studied math education at Jacksonville University and the University of Florida. It became clear to me during my studies why we’re failing at teaching kids math. We're teaching it all wrong! Bill Nye taught kids that science is FUN. He showed them the EXPLOSIONS first and then the kids went to school to learn WHY things exploded. Kids learn about dinosaurs and amoeba and weird ocean life to make them go “wow”. But what about math? You probably remember the dreaded worksheets. Ugh.

    I’m sure you know math is much more exciting than people think. Fractal Geometry was used to create “Star Wars” backdrops, binary code was invented in Africa, The Great Pyramids and The Mona Lisa, wouldn’t exist without geometry.
    Our concept is to create an exciting, web-based TV show that’s both fun and educational.

    If you could consider posting about the project on your blog, I’d very much appreciate it. Also, if you'd be interested in link exchanging (either on The Number Hunter site, which is in development, or on which is a well-established site with 300,000 page views a month) please shoot me an email. We're also always looking for input and ideas from other math educators!

    Thanks in advance for your help,